Arsenic Contamination in Water & Soil

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

It's toxic. It's a poison. You can't even sense it. It's arsenic. It can be found in the soil and in the water. Find out why that matters to you and how it can affect you.

What Is Arsenic?

About 500 years ago a very famous ( and a bit crazy) family named the Borgias lived in Italy. You can read about their many peculiar details elsewhere but one of them involves a chemical element, a heavy metal (technically a metalloid), called arsenic. According to some, they used this chemical element to assassinate political opponents. It worked well because it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless when dissolved in water. Arsenic is also extremely toxic, even in very small quantities. In other words, it's the perfect poison.

An example of arsenic.
Arsenic

Let's see how it makes its way into our environment and how that may impact our health.

Arsenic in Water and Soil

Arsenic is not a man-made substance. Thus, arsenic is naturally found in our Earth's crust and therefore many types of rocks and in the soil. It may also be released as part of volcanic activity or in hot springs that are related to volcanic activity. Therefore, water that comes into contact with such rock and soil naturally filled with arsenic may become contaminated with arsenic as well.

However, arsenic can also be used or released by various mines, manufacturing plants, and energy facilities. This may lead to nearby soil and water contamination. In either case, we may end up drinking toxic amounts of arsenic or we may eat plants that absorb arsenic from the ground.

Health Effects of Arsenic

So what does this mean to us? What happens if we eat food or drink water contaminated with arsenic? Well, that depends. In extremely small quantities, little is likely to occur.

However, in large quantities all at once or in small quantities over a long period of time, arsenic has been either partially or fully linked to causing a wide variety of health problems, including:

  • Irritation of the stomach and intestines producing a stomachache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A decreased production of red blood cells and white blood cells
  • Fatigue as a result of the decreased amount of red blood cells
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Damage to the blood vessels
  • Damage to the nervous system, which may cause a pins and needles sensation in the hands and feet
  • Alzheimer's disease, which is a form of dementia (memory and thinking problems)
  • Patches of darkened skin
  • Cancers of the skin, lungs, liver, and bladder
  • Death

Lesson Summary

Death. That's what the Borgias were after when it came to their enemies. And, it seems, they may have used arsenic to help achieve this. Arsenic is a metalloid, a metal-like substance that is a chemical element naturally found in the Earth's crust.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support